Shirt in the Hands of a Psychic

  • Fiction by D.V. Glenn

Detectives Conley and Brennan watch as the psychic holds the black silk shirt for a long moment and then places it on a table. Her hands glide over the seams and buttons, her fingertips trembling.

Already she knows that this shirt is saturated with a daughter’s prayers, the desire to give a beautiful gift to one deeply loved. Now the psychic sees the wearer of the shirt approaching, a man with skin as dark as the pupils of cat’s eyes.

There is a hollow cough in the small room, and the sound is enough to damn the river of gathering impressions.

“Just take your time,” urges Conley, unaware of the disruption he has caused.

“Sure. Take all the time in the world. I don’t have a wife and kid who’d like me to walk through the door for once at a decent hour,” Brennan says.

When the psychic had shook Brennan’s hand at door, she had been drawn inside his ugly world, seeing what Brennan saw, tasting what he tasted: obsessive images of his adolescent step daughter, scorched musings on the taste and texture of her breasts. By the time the psychic removed her hand from his, she knew that the precinct captain was going to threaten Brennan with termination tomorrow, place him on probation for his poor track record. Of course, the captain did not know why Brennan could not concentrate on his assigned cases.

She listens intently as the shirt begins to whisper again beneath her fingertips.

The man with skin as dark as the pupils of cat’s eyes is tall, elderly, his right leg and foot peppered with World War II Normandy shrapnel, anchoring him to dip, drag and limp; a limp that should have been a badge of patriotic sacrifice but evoked neither tribute nor sympathy because of the color of his skin. His complexion was a magnet for steely eyes, seen as frighteningly, militantly black …

“Do you have anything yet? What do you call them, vibrations?” Conley asks.

“You got it, Conley. Good, good, good, good vi-bra-shuns,” sings Brennan.

… vibrations now pounding the psychic’s temple-centered blood, the walls of the room a hammer, her head the anvil. This old man who was given the shirt by his daughter has a name that uncoils into an S. She can’t hear the rest of it yet. But great fragments of the past are now cutting jaggedly into the present: the old man’s palms are calloused by push-broom handles; he is a janitor, sweeping broad campus sidewalks, mopping bathrooms and empty classrooms. She sees butts of cigarettes like the white keys of a piano crushed beneath the Doc Marten heels of students on campus, sees stubs of lottery tickets, candy cellophane wrappers luminescent as atoms, all swept into tidy piles. She knows why the janitor sees piano keys in cigarette butts – before he went to war he played the piano, his huge hands perfect for striding double octaves and hammering out the rapturous jazz of the masters that he listened to and duplicated without taking lessons. It seems he once saw Bud Powell play in Chicago and after performing the song “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” Powell stood and pantomimed scooping something up in his hands, then flung the imagined armful and wildly bellowed look at all them fuckin wrong notes sticking to the wall! At twenty-two the janitor was somehow able to play them all, Jelly Roll Morton, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum. But during the war he had wrestled with a young German officer in a wintry farmhouse field covered with a crunchy styrofoam of snow, and, battering the blond boy down, pushed his muzzle into his forehead and pulled the trigger, blood and brain splattering the snow, and he could never after that make the hands that pulled the trigger play again; it did not seem right after taking a life, not even the life of an enemy who had grunted the words nigger-jew American over and over as they fought. This was his heart and what it contained, some God-driven sense of right and wrong struggling for equilibrium.

“It’s late. You need maybe some coffee? Maybe a Coke? Maybe you’re trying too hard,” Conley suggests hopefully. “We’re at a loss. He was an important man, Mr. Osborn, a good man, the chancellor of the university, with a wife and daughters, an asset to the community. His killer deserves to be brought to justice. Doesn’t that shirt tell you something? The killer’s shirt? It was wrapped around Mr. Osborn’s – excuse my vulgarity – his male organ.”

“It was wrapped around that educated pecker of his,” Brennan marvels, chucking softly.

“Say, Brennan, why not give it a genuine rest,” remarks Conley.

Brennan nods in feigned apology and somberly pretends to zip his lips.

And now the psychic knows: the shirt was given to the janitor on his seventy-seventh birthday by his daughter, who was grateful for the countless sacrifices her father had made to send her to the university. His janitor’s salary, that humiliating trickle of money, was the reason he waltzed the broom handle like a rigid woman in his shuffling rigor mortis of daily labor, the scent of urine and sometimes drunken vomit rising to wreath his head in reeking thorns; he had welcomed those nails of odors fixing him fast to the crucifix of fetor he hung from; the stench he tolerated made possible the insulting paycheck that might allow his daughter to avoid the cruelties he had suffered. She had inherited from him his startling satin richness of black skin, and he knew the world would keep her down because of it, as ruthless hands hold one drowning under water. She would need the education he never had.

And now the molten impressions flowing faster, harder; his name gushing forward, Sims, and the daughter’s too, Holland, named after the country whose landscape like something shaken from a wand he saw through the window of the train when the war was over and he returned home; home, where no celebratory confetti or spiral of ticker tape twisted through the air for him, the too-black soldier who would limp behind the broom handle through all his monotonous days.

The shirt Holland lovingly ironed every Saturday night was her offering, a reward of silk to restore his pride when he wore it on Baptist-church Sundays; a swaddling bandage to absorb the leakage inflicted by the puncturing eyes and actions of those who mistook his station in life for the worth and value of a man. He was seen by a barrel-chested frat boy with brutally shaved head and cobalt blue eyes spinning in ketamine orbits as a profiteer of excrement, garbage, deserving of insult. The boy had staggered out the door of the men’s rest room and spat on the tiles Sims had just scrubbed to coruscating whiteness and, flanked by two other steroidogenically-inflated youths, told the janitor over his skull-and-crossbone tattooed shoulder you missed something, homey, you better get it up before somebody falls and sues your old black ass, and Sims summoned a deep breath, nodding to the swaggering youths, began his waltz with the rigid dead woman of the mop to wipe up the leaden medallion of saliva, his daughter’s lovely face interposing itself so that he no longer saw the phlegm on the floor beneath him; her face shimmering, shimmering like bird song stitching through white sheets of dawn. And then recalling Holland’s face as it was at the age of nine and she sat next to him on his bed of convalescence after his first stroke, wiping his forehead from time to time with a cloth she dipped in a porcelain bowl of cool water while she read The Cat in the Hat, her bright chattering voice the healing pill he swallowed and felt expand in his veins, suffusing curative properties of innocence and love. He loved his wife but this was something even deeper, preceding language and thought: his daughter was his gilt-framed mirror showing him the original face he wore before his own parents were born; she was a combination of elements more rudimentary that earth, air, fire and water, an alpha and omega of the blood, in which the Lord revealed himself in all His glory and purity; she was the arc of silence he rode atop the torrent of the world’s trumpeting storm, his Holland, his Holland.

“Hey, what’s the deal, you okay, you look like you’re about to puke.”

“Shut up, Brennan, goddamit, just shut the hell up,” Conley finally explodes, because it is now so strong that even he must feel it, this sky of visions and formless forms asserting itself through roiling clouds, exposing everything in a harsh light sparing nothing and no one; it draws near, that thing the detectives are so eager to grasp. They would grasp it, squeeze out an officialdom of nectar onto documents and forms, drops that would fall onto the file yawning open with its thirsty tongue sticking out. Thirst quenched, the file would retract its tongue, sated with the distillation of man into fact, a life compressed into neat summary and closure. And the psychic, too, would typically have wished to summarize it all, to categorize the matter into right and wrong, to be done with what was, invariably, another bleeding atrocity, to turn away from the visions, not wanting to sink to subterranean reasons. Another case closed, another body located, then she would turn away, go home, where the first thing the psychic would see upon opening the front door was the mantle holding the silver-framed photograph of a youth, the psychic’s son, his arms and legs still gangly with vestiges of adolescence; her son who had been drafted and disappeared into the green monstrous recesses of Vietnam jungles, never to return.

Out of the photograph, the deed behind the eyes in her son’s face would creep forward, closer and closer, until she re-experienced everything in a vivid wash of impressions: how her son shot two soldiers from his own platoon dead with his M-16 to save a Vietnamese girl from their rage-filled erections. The psychic read somewhere that it was called fragging, this act of one American intentionally killing a compatriot, usually an officer whose judgment was deemed unsound because it resulted in the death of his men.

After he shot them he wandered deeper into the maze of the murmuring jungle, marbles of rain bouncing off his helmet, stumbling forward as his tears pealed away behind him like scraps of wind-borne paper. Weeping his way through the miasmal growth that even napalm could not obliterate, he fell into a pit but was miraculously unscathed by the punji sticks. He was captured and the Viet Cong wrung the thoughts from the tie-dyed rag of his mind until brightly colored memories of what it meant to be an American were as footprints in a diary of mud washed away by an erasing river. And then the final vision of him, seen through a telescope of accelerated time, the son slinking with the Viet Cong and wearing the black pajamas that flowed like stitched together scraps of holy robes, high priest of stealth and invisibility, his cat’s eyes cochineal in the swirling night and hollow with hatred, his aim excellent and true as he became a nucleus in the cell of the jungle and squeezed off bullets that emerged like exclamation points from nowhere as punctuation in vignettes of death, thudding cleanly into the faces of his former countrymen, wiping them from the face of the earth in reparation for all the innocent girls and boys mangled, raped, slaughtered.

Only this question was left: was he a good boy or a bad boy? Had he saved anyone (for that girl died six years later from an overdose of black tar heroin)? The Washington officials who presumed the son killed in action and sent home the Medal of Honor for the life they supposed he had sacrificed for his country, had they known his deeds, would not have called him a valiant boy, a good boy who had sacrificed his life for his country. They would have spat their venom of contempt on the ground before him and someone, perhaps Sims, would move in with his mop.

Silence in the room. Eyes closed, the psychic watches Sims and what he has done, as if through a magnifying glass. He will be deemed by the detectives to be the lowest rung on the descending ladder of murderers, a black man who killed a white one. Happening, happening this way – Sims’ daughter, his daughter who worked part time in the chancellor, Mr. Osborne’s, office after a late algebra class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, filing and shifting the papers on the desktop into manageable stacks. Given that job because what, what was it, Osborne knew Sims, had seen the stooped steadfast curve of his back as he hunched over the broom year after year; had spoken to him often, friendly in that almost dismissive way of one deigning as an after-thought to acknowledge an inferior, learning that Sims’ daughter attended the university, not full time of course, there was not money enough for that; and in a gesture that allowed Osborne to feel magnanimous, he had proposed employment for Holland, he would pull strings. It was not much, but it was something, he said – words to that effect. And how pleased he was to see, after her first timid knock on the door to his palatial office and he told her to enter in a voice that never betrayed emotion and was always measured out in straight lines by his governing ruler of academia, that she was a beautiful girl – congratulating himself that he was able to see this beauty in spite of the startling blackness of her complexion; a beautiful girl in spite of the alarming, almost repugnant detriment of her color. He watched her secretly as he sat in his great swiveling leather chair, modestly sipping a well-deserved quarter inch of brandy – no more in her presence – from a snifter at the end of a hard day from the bottle of brandy he kept locked in the desk’s bottom drawer, pretending to skim official documents. And he knew something was wrong when, after she left for the evening, he locked the office door and immediately pulled down his pants and removed his contact lenses gingerly and placed them just so on a napkin and proceeded to imagine the wicked cleft of her naked buttocks shining blackly and spread wide, and he masturbated thuggishly, frenziedly with one trembling hand as he stood in the middle of the room with his eyes squeezed shut tightly, now gulping brandy that spilled its slow heat along the length of his clavicle. Shards of semen like broken glass shattered through his penis, the penis he had always been deeply displeased with, a meager stalk he thought of as prepubescent, stunted in length and girth, wondering why it could not have been the potent correlative of his intellect, wondering about the penises (cocks, he thought, bitterly) of black men and whether the myth he heard about them was true, then crying out in anger at the tyranny of biological insufficiency that drooped ludicrously between his thighs, massive as those of oxen.

“Jesus, it’s hot in here all of a sudden, turn on that fan,” Brennan says, loosening his slovenly necktie with brusque irritation. “You feel hot?”

For the first time, Conley agrees with the other, crossing the room to turn a desk fan on.

How many times did Osborne repeat that shameful act after the girl left him alone with his stacks of unread documents, the act that had demonized him as an adolescent; how many evenings had he masturbated in his office with all the criminal fervor of a shoplifter stealing a worthless ring from a countertop, swollen pustule of his imagination lanced and dripping poison. Bitterly he thought that a pencil-thin penis like his could only elicit mockery from Holland, who had no doubt so many times welcomed the furtive penetrations of sturdier, longer and thicker black cocks (this girl, Holland, who was still a virgin). At home his wife shunned his feverish, pitiable erection when he pressed against her, straining oxen thighs against her patrician unappealing buttocks; she scooted away from that uncharacteristic passion, appalled by it, almost shocked. In a fury at her rejection on the third night he rose above her on the bed like an levitating idol and as if in his office began to masturbate above her as she watched in horror, then rushed from the room and sequestered herself in the guest bedroom at the end of the hall. In the morning he left the house like a shadow before she stirred and when he returned in the evening, still a shadow-man, she acted as though his insanity had never taken place, though she continued to sleep in the guest bedroom.

No merciful fragments now, none, just a powerful stream of images in converging detonations, synesthetic bombs exploding in the roll of the psychic’s eyes brainward, as if her eyes might find an oblivion of sleep beneath brain’s convoluted blanket, desks and chairs and walls and detectives slammed away into the corners of the room, like a triangle of billiard balls fleeing from the force of the cue ball. Mr. Osborn, Roy, Roy, Royce, rising from the chair like a desecrated idol and saying to the girl tell me, Holland – such a beautiful name, I think – tell me, because you can, you know, we don’t have to keep secrets from one another in this sanctum – have you ever received pleasure from a white man? Could you ever consider that what a white man has between his legs might be a sort of heaven to which you could ascend? And then what Osborne had seen a frenzied million times in his bonfire of million minds he sees before him as he lifts her dress and snatches down her virgin’s panties, the buttocks even blacker than he had imagined, pushing her onto the desk she had neatened moments ago, pushing himself inside her with tadpole rhythms, squirming instead of thrusting, finding tepid fulfillment in thirty seconds: You shan’t ever be the same, and rest assured neither shall I, and I trust you understand that this is our covenant.

what is it, what is it, what is, why are you limping. oh, oh, i fell, fell, daddy, don’t ask me. i am asking you, fell from where, what. i can’t, please, don’t. whose, what tears. fell first. let me. it’s. nothing. nothing. yes. something. but until then i. or is. eyes can’t. breathe. lay down. i won’t stop. to. stand. my god, you. he. little. girl. he. it was not that i. when did. don’t. over. now. gone. sleep is. saying not that anything. you don’t have to, it did. shhhhhhhh. holland. angel.

Shirt, keys, car, landscape, door, office. Sims rushing to Roy, Roy, Rrrrooyce, sitting behind the desk, axe of Sims’ hands chopping into Osborne’s neck, flesh purpling, the chancellor’s eyes, they see Sims, so much strength he feels is directed wrongly against his whiteness; he would much rather prefer that it be aimed at the obliteration of the demonic momentum that had launched him inexplicably into that most unfortunate deed, leaning, chair tumbling back, to floor, more, more, then done, his shadow rising but trapped below the height beyond the ceiling, glued there where it will always be. Certainly not hell then, gladly to see and see it forever, tethering of his shadow to afterimages of pornographic bliss. Or if hell, then a perfect one, his shadow plastered comfortably to the ceiling, watching what he did to her over and over. Except for what Sims did, not seeing that anymore, Sims twisting the black silk that had rippled when he went to church around the shadow-penis, snug tourniquet of retribution.

Where is Sims now? The psychic sees some place with wooden crates and boxes and a spider-webbed mattress the old man like a swelling wave rolls on, sees him hiding in a building swaddled in its decay as an abandoned baby lies naked in the heart of ragged blankets; he waits there for what Holland will bring him, returning to him secretly with food and forgiveness and money, yes, the money that will take them both, daughter, father, lift them both on angel’s wings and carry them down, a southernly route on little-known roads to relatives waiting in Saratogo, Florida, then send for the mother later. Must be a railroad yard nearby, slow syncopations of wheels clacking their roulette of woe as they crush out a somnolent adagio on sparking tracks, warehouse district, junkyard savage with obsolescence, mausoleum of old cars and rusted mechanical things; now the psychic sees the specific numbers of the next-door building, 5-6-9, more, and the street, Marengo, more, and the direction, east – Sims is waiting in the building next to an auto repair shop called Hamms.

“Jesus Christ!” Conley cries, bending over the psychic’s body on the floor, snatching the shirt from her hands, lifting her head and shoulders, pulling her body into a sitting position. “You went down like rock, what happened?”

“You know what happened, don’t you?” Brennan coaxes excitedly, almost whispering into her ear. “Who he is, where he is … I didn’t believe in this Twilight Zone shit at first but you know, don’t you?” He leans closer so that Conley does not hear. “Something tells me it’s a black dude, it almost always is, I know it, like you, I feel it.”

American jew-nigger.

Black dots, red dots, white, pointillistic halo surrounding the down-looking faces of the two detectives. Conley rushes from the room and down the hall to the water dispenser.

Her eyes lock with Brennan’s, pinpoint pupil handcuffed to dilated pupil. The detectives do not yet suspect the old man Sims, but they are detectives, even Brennan in his lust-hazed ineptitude, accustomed to looking in dark places, peering into all the darkest corners; but not the heart, that is not their business or concern, and until now, during previous police investigations, the psychic tiptoed carefully outside borders of right and wrong as clearly demarcated as the chalk outlines of slain bodies. The detectives do not peer into the heart-buried things that men or even boys allow to burst free and take control of the hands and fingers, young unerring finger that pulls the M-16’s trigger, old hands that release the rigid woman of the mop and fuse to throat’s flesh.

“Where is he?” Brennan demands, this one who – blade of a swift and stabbing impression – who stops the unmarked car in deserted alleys where shields of shadow repel the penetration of onlookers’ eyes, sharing a pint of Southern Comfort with his partner – not Conley, someone else – before removing an athletic sock swollen with wet sand from under the seat and pushing the handcuffed prisoner, always a black youth, out the door and urging him to run, then when he does swings club of sand that breaks no bones but bursts like a brick of foam against the head, the neck, the groin, the back, full force in what he sees as monkey-black faces, swing it just right and not even the incrimination of a bruise is left.

“You would stand him up and call him a traitor and execute him if you could,” the psychic says, this released on a breath stretched to gasping.

Brennan thinks the reference is to the hiding man, knowing nothing of her son in black pajamas, and says, “Damn right. Damn straight. But you got one thing wrong, Twilight Zone. We’re not talkin’ about a traitor here. You can’t be a traitor if you never belonged in the first place. Hey – you’re here to do the right thing, like our little bug-eyed friend Spike Lee said in the movie. Even he said it – do the right thang.”

Another cascade: tomorrow after he is placed on probation, Brennan will get a tip from an addict who customarily delivers information in exchange for cocaine filched by the bad detective from the evidence room; he and the Southern Comfort partner will find Sims on the spider-webbed mattress, lying on his side, his face turned to the wall. Needing neither judge nor jury, Brennan will swing the wet-sand bludgeon too hard against the old skull brittle with age, the skull like thin porcelain cracking, and Sims’ last thought will wrap itself around Holland, break apart into stars and rise to sprinkle the heavens, and Brennan will lie and say they found the man dead.

“I know you understand,” Brennan continues to whisper, “because you’re white, and you don’t want to see black scum go free for killing an innocent white man. I know he’s black – you can’t tell me otherwise. You’re not the only one that can feel this stuff deep in your gut.”

Conley returns with a Dixie cup of water, extends it, pushes it into the psychic’s trembling outstretched hand. “Well? Who is it? You don’t keel over like that without a reason.”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry, I … it’s nothing I can control … I almost had something, but … sometimes it just slips away.”

“You’re lying,” Brennan contradicts roughly, triumphantly. “Those vibrations came through loud and clear, all right.” He turns to Conley, a look of betrayed appeal squeezed out of his face. “I think Twilight Zone here is holding something back.”

“Are you crazy?” Conley whirls upon Brennan. “What’s your fucking problem tonight? A person comes forward, volunteers to do this and gives up free time, and you accuse? You criticize, out of the blue?” He turns away from Brennan in disgust and takes back the Dixie cup and the black silk shirt. “I can see you tried. Thank you. If something comes to you later, please call,” he says quietly. He produces a card and holds it out. “Any time, even in the middle of the night. Call me, that’s my home number on the back. Are you good to drive? Let me call a taxi and have your car brought to you tomorrow.”

“No, I’m fine. I’m all right. That happens sometimes, it’s … it’s normal for me.”

“I can drive you,” Brennan says with a smile like something splashed in mud.

“I said I’m fine.”

Sleep seems imperative now, the psychic’s body moves with heavy reluctance, passing the two detectives and through the door, then this final whisper-hiss from Brennan reaching the ears: Accessory.

It is an effort to halt the sleep-walking momentum of her body. “What was that, detective?”

Brennan’s face masks over with nonchalant innocence.

“If you ever touch your step daughter, Ramona, do you know what will happen? Her mother will take that old fashioned straight razor you keep on your side of the sink and swing it. You’ll stumble back, cry out, turn your head in such a way that the jugular is fully exposed. She won’t call 911.”

Brennan’s face is a cigarette sucked to crumpling white ash as the door swings shut.

The keys, the car, the streak of landscape, door to the abandoned building, flashlight’s beam fingering latches of blackness, prying at the latches on the briefcase of the night holding hidden things, as the psychic climbs up a deteriorating staircase. Through all the odors one would expect, through the silence offered up by forgotten and abandoned things, things ignored and invisible, following the sounds of hurried movement to their source, through a door clinging weakly to its hinges like a man clinging to the edge of a cliff. Sims is rising from the mattress and takes a step backward into the corner of the room. The psychic clicks the flashlight off.

“Who’s there?”

“You don’t know me. I’m here to tell you something.”

Sims slides his back with its cello-curve of years slowly down the wall, going down onto resigned knees, dropping his head. He releases a wooden table leg clutched in his hand and it hits the floor with a baritone thud. “You come to arrest me?”

“I came because I know things. I know what you did.”

A pale starfish of light from the streetlamp outside swims through the pentacle of absent glass in the window frame. The light falls on Sims’ skull like limp algae. Then the psychic is carried forward by the sleep-walking movement again, her body pulled toward the mattress as a cart filled with granite is pulled uphill by a dray horse. “Whoever you are, you look tired,” Sims says.

“I’ll sit for a minute, if you don’t mind.”

“Ain’t my mattress. Nothing is anymore.”

Sleep draws near in the shape of a slender and kindly gentleman wearing a tall top hat and presses the psychic’s shoulders down gently to help lower her weight, touches eyelids with phantom fingertips. “I know what you did. I know why. I was with detectives tonight. I tell them where things are. Children who get lost, people who disappear.”

“I ain’t lost. They ain’t never seen me all these years, but it’s funny how they ain’t about to let me disappear now.”

“I suppose it wouldn’t have occurred to me to think of it that way.”

Sims laughs, shuts the lid on the laughter hard. “Why would it,” he says, then slowly moves to the mattress and sits.

“They’ll be here in the morning. If you leave now ….”

“Leave where, with what?”

“You have people in Florida. Here, it’s all I have.”

Sims moves his hands, as if knitting his next response out of a dark yarn of silence. After a long time Sims asks, “Why you doing this?”

The answer glimmers on the horizon of almost-speech, then sinks like the setting sun. And even as the psychic places the two-hundred dollars on the mattress, the shadowy gentleman of sleep with the high black top hat presses his fingers more firmly on her eyelids, heaviness draws the psychic’s body flat on the back, and Sims, too, stretches his long legs out painfully and lies down, turns, faces the wall.

“I’m too old to run off anywhere,” Sims mutters, beginning to breathe deeply.

  • .

The psychic is lowered into sleep as a bucket is lowered into a bottomless well, down into a deep narcosis of waters, down through the night, so deep that many nights might have passed with no waking, were it not for the sound of footsteps and cursing floating up the staircase, the long sound like widows in mourning the train makes as it rolls down the tracks, the door hanging weakly on its hinges unnecessarily kicked open, Brennan and the Southern Comfort partner stepping into the room. “Well, well. I’ll be damned. Look who’s here,” Brennan announces, the sand-filled sock dangling from one hand, his partner behind him with drawn gun.

And on hearing these words, the psychic stretches both arms out in panic to sweep the mattress as the wall of waking consciousness slams fully forward, arms sweeping the mattress to rouse the old man though now it is too late, rising to sit and her eyes darting to find that Sims is not on the mattress, not in the room after all, the money gone.

“Well, well. My old friend Twilight Zone, the accessory,” Brennan says with delighted laughter as he approaches the mattress. “My old friend who claims to know about Ramona, with the same look people get on their face when they’re about to resist arrest and have to be put down with appropriate force – even a chick can try to resist and have to get put down. Don’t it look like that to you, Starsky?”

“That’s right, Hutch.”

Fragments, all of them coming together now, an explosion in reverse retracting pieces from that place half a world away, where the psychic’s son in pajamas soft as a black silk shirt, the one who has chosen never to return, climbs to the highest branches of a jungle tree and, concealed in his green cathedral of trailing fronds, snaps the stock of the M-16 between shoulder and smooth cherubic cheek, barrel as straight as the handle of a mop, black cat-eye pupils dilating to take aim, that aim so excellent and true; sighting through scope the starfish of absent glass in the window above the spider-webbed mattress, quartering the tiny figure with the sand sock in the crosshairs, drawing his last inhalation and holding it in his chest like a prayer, counting calmly to three, then squeezing; and on the tide of the exhalation, the son sails forward with the bullet, his wrath unleashed, toward the target of a faraway redemption.

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